The transfer of US$1.4 billion (S$1.9 billion) of private bank client assets from the English Channel isle of Guernsey to Singapore before new tax transparency rules were introduced has come under the scrutiny of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
In response to queries from The Straits Times, MAS said last night it takes a serious view of the transfer between the Guernsey and Singapore offices of Standard Chartered Bank.
These private bank client assets were held in the bank's Guernsey trust unit for mainly Indonesian clients, and were moved in late 2015, Bloomberg reported on Oct 5.
Regulators in Europe and Asia were reportedly investigating StanChart over the role that staff may have played in the matter.
This move was made before Guernsey - known to be a low-tax, offshore financial centre - adopted the Common Reporting Standard at the start of last year. StanChart closed operations on the island last year.
An MAS spokesman said in a statement: "MAS will take firm action against any financial institution or individual that is found to have breached requirements relating to anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism.
"As our supervisory probe is still ongoing, we are unable to provide more information at this juncture."
MAS said it has in place a robust regime for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism, "to detect and deter illicit activities in our financial sector".
The spokesman noted: "Financial institutions are required to assess and understand the nature and extent of risks posed by their customers, verify the identities of these customers, including beneficial owners, inquire about their source of funds and source of wealth, and monitor customers' transactions as well as perform regular account reviews."
The spokesman said Singapore will not tolerate the abuse of its financial system as a refuge or conduit for tax-illicit funds, and is "firmly committed to keeping Singapore's financial centre clean and safeguarded from illicit activities".
MAS has taken firm action against financial institutions before, such as imposing financial penalties and "prohibition orders on culpable individuals where there are serious lapses".
It was also reported yesterday that Indonesia is investigating as well. A spokesman for Indonesia's tax office told Reuters: "We are now checking their annual tax reports, as well as their report of assets, for those who participated in the (Indonesian) tax amnesty."
A spokesman for Indonesia's Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre said its officials are in Singapore for discussions.